Catalogue and Conquer – Part IX – Road Trip

At the end of the last blog, I had mentioned that I had been meaning to visit Marc for a while. Typically, Kitty and I almost always find our way to his place for a weekend trip by the beginning of January. This year, December and January were dominated by exceptionally high water, followed almost immediately by a cold dry spell. Even on the drop, his area has been really slow fishing, whereas our area has been fairly consistent. It was time to head up there though, I haven’t fished with Marc in a long while now; fish or no fish, days on the water with him are a blast. The rivers in his area are also a very nice change of pace – mostly small and a different colour of water than the ones I frequent near home. I decide that now is probably the best time to make the trip happen, so I pack for a few days with Kitty’s permission. On the way, there’s one flow I’m really excited to hit. I’ve been trying to get to this one all season (especially the last two weeks, as it’s peak run timing now), but the water has been too high the entire year so far. Today the gauge signalled that I would just barely be able to wade the canyon, finally, so I left early in the morning and told Marc my time-frame for being back in service up by his place.

I arrive at the river and pull up my map (and gps track) on the MyTrails app. The trail to get into the canyon could be likened to a maze. There are dozens of elk trails that zigzag into the canyon off the top deactivated/overgrown logging road, and even though I’ve been here dozens of times now, it’s still easy to get lost in the dense bush that all looks alike on the course of your nearly 2 km walk in. A good 90% of these trails end up leading you to dangerous cliff edges, and the others just lead you into dense bush and swamps. The only way we originally found this “proper trail” was by hiking up the river 6 km from the ocean 4 years ago, and punching a way out where it appeared safe. It’s funny looking back – that very first exploration day is actually still the only time I’ve ever come to this section of river and not caught at least one steelhead. My hopes remained very high for today – I would be surprised if another angler had been in here yet, and the water was at the most ideal height that it could be. I’m not really concerned with, or expecting, high numbers of fish here – I’m only really expecting one or two (maybe three at most), but they are always beautiful, fairly large fish. I’ve attached a clip below from last year, an average fish for this system, and what I would expect to see today.

As I approach the first pool, it looks as good as it always has. I’m slightly surprised that there haven’t been any changes, but it’s a fairly large substrate based river and appears quite healthy with the logs and old growth forest right to the edge. Despite how good this first run always looks, I didn’t find a steelhead here. In the 4 years of fishing this system, I’ve always found the confluence pool to hold a lot of coho and various trout, but have only ever seen 1 steelhead here. I’m not phased at all by the lack of fish here, and continue fishing down. One thing I’ve noticed over the years in this location is that the steelhead always seem to sit in the same 3 or 4 runs, and very rarely utilize the other good runs or pocket water. In fact, I’ve actually only ever touched one steelhead outside of those specific 4 runs. It has gotten to the point that I will often walk by a lot of water that I would normally fish on other systems – it takes 3x as long to do the circuit if you properly fish everything here, and it’s never been fruitful (and once you’re in the canyon, you’re committed to the full section which takes 5 hours even at a fast pace). For whatever reason today, I decided to fish everything. Two runs down, I take a cast out in the mid section of a run, and start walking with my float. As I approach the tail out, I see a gut way back that looks as though it could maybe hold a fish. I decide that when I get to it, I’ll put an extra cast there. I get to it, cast out a bit further, and start walking with my float again as it gets down to the little tail out trench. I took a couple steps, and then looked up to watch my float go down pretty hard. Before I even set the hook, I watched this fish come up from the depths and thrash on top; I’m in trouble with this one.

At this point, let me take you back to a decision I made back at my car. I brought 3 rods along on this trip (it’s always safe to – I’ve broken rods before on trips where I’ve only brought one). Anyway, I brought my “green machine” rod (you can see it in the video above, it’s a mid weight rainshadow pin rod) that’s actually suit-able for this system and the fish, and then two light weight “creek rods.” This system has a lot of reasonable sized trout, so for whatever reason, I reached for my favourite light weight creek rod – my Rainshadow Revelation 7 wt switch conversion – to make the trout “more fun.” As soon as I saw this fish come up, I immediately regretted my light weight decision. He was very, very large. This buck, like all fish in this river generally do, took off fast down the rapids. I took off running after him, and to my surprise managed to turn him about half way down the extremely long set of rapids. I brought him right up to me, and at that point got a good look at him. He was a magnificent buck, somewhere around 38 inches long, and in immaculate ocean phase condition, lacking even so much as a pink cheek. Of course, he wasn’t done, and managed to take me all the way down to the next run, completing a nearly one kilometre long journey in around 6 minutes. It was clear now that he was tiring. At this point, a tug of war that I stood little chance of winning proceeded. At one point, he was sitting just 3 feet in front of me in a pocket, rod bent right through the cork and groaning at me, and yet I couldn’t budge him. I contemplated a short video on my phone of him sitting there right in front of me, but decided against it as I focused on battle. At this point I reasoned that it would be best to break him off, since he appeared to be immovable with this rod. It didn’t look like this fish was even trying at this point, it seemed as if he was resting now for another battle. After a few minutes, I made the decision that I would make a big lunge into the waist deep pocket to grab my mainline and simply muscle him in by hand before he had too long to rest. Somehow, I managed to complete the maneuver, and even more surprisingly my leader held. I was now holding one of the nicest steelhead I’ve maybe ever landed in my hands. I was shaking hard at this point, and went to take out my phone for a photo in the middle of the river, but paused. If I dropped him, I really didn’t want to try to battle him back in. Rather than reach for my phone, I used my free hand to grab the hook and twist it out. He didn’t like it, kicked hard and soaked me. There was no way I was holding onto him, and really, I didn’t even try. Holding on to fish tightly while they try to kick can cause some pretty significant damage to both the tail and spine. You’ll often see fish swimming around with black tails in high pressure systems, and excited anglers gripping tight is a huge cause for it. It’s one of the main reasons that I use a net now. This one wouldn’t have fit in the net anyway, even if I had a partner along. Even without the picture though, I’m counting him as river #8 on the year – the fact I unhooked him is enough to count him landed for me. I sit down on the beach still shaking; what a absolutely epic fight, and what an incredible specimen that I had the pleasure of encountering today. Not much could make the day any better.

After that fish, I literally flogged everything (every pocket, slick and shallow tail out) all the way down. To my utmost amazement, that was the only fish I hit throughout my entire favourite stretch of water, including the 4 runs that normally hold all the fish. As I already mentioned though, I’m completely content with the day at this point, even if another chance doesn’t present itself. I’m finally nearing my last spot of the day – a spectacular corner bend with a canyon wall that I’ve never seen a fish in (besides some resident trout). There’s a set of 3 pockets above the run that are also picture perfect, but they are also void of life each and every trip as well. I’m slightly discouraged on the fishing front of things now after having a good 6 hours since my last fish and fishing hard, but I throw a few here and there in the best looking spots in the last stretch. I finally get to the last pocket, and as I walk with my float, I get a weird bounce. It was strange enough that I stopped and decided to take another cast. My next cast, the bounce didn’t happen again, but two feet past it my float got absolutely buried. This was perhaps the most explosive fish of my entire season – something I didn’t think I’d be able to say after that last large buck. Fourteen pounds of pure madness erupted from the water and came charging towards me. Before I could even catch up, this fish turned and took one of the most hand blistering (literally – he burnt my pinky) runs I’ve experienced in 10 years. Within about 10 seconds he was now 200 feet downriver and wedged through a couple boulders, which was the end point to my battle. The fish actually wedged me so hard in there that when I eventually broke off, my balsa wood float remained wedged in the two large boulders. I re-rig and fish the last run before heading up to Marc’s house. What an great day it was – two amazing fights, and two really quality fish in one of my favorite little canyon creeks with no one around.

 


 

The next day up at Marc’s was a long one. We started the day at one river in the morning and fished for 3 hours with nothing to show. It’s approaching the end of the run here, and the water is low, but we try it because it’s close to home and a quick one. After leaving there, we debate what place to go next, and decide on another fairly close to home one. This particular river really has both mine and Marc’s number. We hook a lot of fish here, but always seem to be bested by them. As we arrive to our starting location, we pull up to see another vehicle. We decide to turn around and hit a small run upriver that’s close to the road. It’s a great indicator spot to see if there are any fish around (and to see if it’s worth committing time here) – it doesn’t take long and it almost always holds a fish or three.

We’ve dubbed it the worm hole. No matter what, it seems fish here almost always prefer a 6 inch worm over every other things you can throw. It doesn’t matter if the water is raging high or nearly stagnant low, it’s the first thing Marc and I throw each and every time now. Knowing that the worm would be his weapon, I decide to walk down there with both my spoon rod and pin rod, but my primary choice will be metal. Marc’s first cast his float hammers down – bottom, and it takes everything from him. As he re-rigs, I fish through with my spoon. The main gut that seems to always hold the fish is lacking one, but I’m not overly surprised since the reports here this year have been pretty dire. I decide to give the entire run a chance though and continue down. Maybe 5 casts after the money portion of the run, I get cranked on the swing, not once, but twice. By some way unknown to me, I manage to miss both aggressive grabs. I take a couple steps back and repeat the cast. The perfect thumping patterns indicates I’m well within the zone, and just as I hit the middle portion of my swing, I’m met with another vicious hit. This time it connects well. The fish comes tearing up towards me, and as I try to catch up, he rolls nearly right at my feet and tosses the spoon. Damn. At this point Marc is finally re-rigged and starts fishing through. Three casts in he gets taken down hard, but misses – that time it definitely wasn’t bottom. He tried to replicate the drift over and over and nothing happens, so he decides to work further down into the tail out. After sitting on the beach for a bit and watching, I too decide to bust out my pin rod with the bass worm on it. My first cast I managed to get Marc’s fish to come back. I eventually went on to land this one after a really drawn out battle. I actually thought it would be a lot larger than he was based on the fight, but he only ended up being a rosy buck in the 10 pound range. Still good enough to check off my 9th river of the year though. I take a short little low quality phone video clip for the memory banks and let him swim off.

The next day I told Marc I’d fish the morning with him, before doing the fairly long drive home for hockey that evening. We decided to do the morning on the same river that we had started on yesterday. We fished for a couple of hours through the most likely spots with nothing to show, and decided on one last spot before I’d head home. As luck would have it, my first cast in, my float dove under really close to a pile of wood on the backside. My initial reaction was “really?!,” since I thought I had snagged on the log that extended out, but it quickly turned to excitement when head shakes ensued and a flash lit up the run. “It’s actually a fish,” I exclaimed to Marc. We were both quite surprised, and I was lucky enough to bring the beautiful doe to hand despite the lack of a hook set. River number 10 was in the books now, in a place that I really wasn’t expecting one with the general lack of fish this year. Check out the picture below! I believe the phrase goes, “by the skin of your teeth.” I barely pulled this one off.

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This girl barely hung on to get to shore. Just before throwing this cast out, I had checked my hook and nearly changed it because of how dull it was (the point was also bent). I figured I wouldn’t get a fish anyway. Had I hit bone, I likely wouldn’t have gotten a solid hookup. Really, in a way, this was actually the best hookup I could have asked for.

After that fish, I of course got trapped for a little while, and had to try just a few more runs with Marc. I should have just taken my “last run fish” as a win and ran off with it, but it’s hard to do when you finally encounter one that fresh. She was the only one interested in biting today however, and after another 6 runs of no action I decide to head my way home.

I had plans to fish one more river – one I’ve always loved – on my way home. It’s been on my mind for much of this season, and I’ve never fished it this time of year. Marc’s reply to me was “are you going to check under the bridge on the way home though before heading there.” I told him of course. Even though I have plans to go to elsewhere, it’s pretty hard to pass over this other flow without at least a look. My actual reply to him was, “you know I will, and I’m gonna find 20 fish.” Marc laughs at me and says, “you might be lucky to find one on a tide push.” I was being funny, I wasn’t expecting to see much since it had been incredibly slow. It had been so slow in fact, that the hatchery only had one single brood fish, and it was well over a month into the program. Marc had fished huge sections of it three times this year with only two hookups. I didn’t have high hopes, but I wished Marc well, told him I’d phone him if I saw anything, and started the long drive home.

I take the short detour off the highway and check out the logging bridge. I walk out, peek off, and am flabbergasted when I watch a school of fish scatter. Not just the one or two Marc and I figured I’d maybe see, a school! I back up quick and walk back to my car. I consider driving back to service to phone Marc, but am worried someone else may poke in by the time I’m back. I suit up and give the run 10 minutes, and then literally crawl to get a good visual of the fish. They had settled down and I counted 11. I examine the run and currents from above. There was a new log, and some really poor current swirls to combat. Once I had a good read of the run, I venture down. I know from past experiences here that this run is much deeper than it looks, so I set deep to start and elect for the subtle trout bead. I fished a good dozen casts with nothing, which I found to be strange since beads here are almost always a guarantee. I decided to go with the white worm next. First cast my float hammers down. I get a short battle and lose it. I try for a while longer and get nothing. I decide to try something else. I shy away from the pink worm in this low clear water. As I dig through gear, I notice these odd clear UV glitter worms that I’ve had nearly 3 years and never used before. I also notice a couple have turned just slightly pink – they had seeped some die away from the actual pink worms in my pack. They look pretty good now actually, and I have nothing to lose. First cast a fish hammers one and goes crazy, and I lose it again. After another 10 minutes of fishing with nothing, I decide to give them a break and try working upriver to see if more are around. After 30 minutes of traveling up and covering a good 2 km of water without seeing another fish, I decide to go back down and see if any others will bite after the rest.

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One of the UV worms

I try the white worm and the UV worm again without luck. I go back to the bead. I decide to try deeper and cast a little closer to the log that they were all against. After a few casts my float goes down. I pull back slowly and hesitantly thinking I’ve hooked the log. All of a sudden I get a head shake and a flash. I set hard at that point. I finally have a good hookup, but all the logs prove to be my nemesis and the fish breaks me off in them. I try another 10 minutes and this time decide to go down.

The next run is very nice and is also holding a bunch of fish – I count 8, but it’s much harder to sight here and it’s mostly by shadows (so there could be more). I fish over them a bunch and miss a couple float downs, but nothing really commits, and I even question whether the float downs were fish or knicking bottom. I keep walking down and finally get service. I give Marc a call and tell him to get here fast. He thinks I’m joking at first, but realizes I’m not and says he’s on his way.  A few more runs of nothing after the phone call, and I decide to walk back up to the original run.

Just as I start fishing again, Marc shows up and meets me. We fish the top run hard and don’t get anything. We decide to give the run below a more honest effort. We cycle through a bunch of things, and I eventually settle on that UV worm again. A few more casts, and my persistence finally paid off with my 11th river of the year. After a stretch of losses, it was great to finally get another one to hand. It turns out to be a hatchery buck, and Marc loves eating steelhead, so I dispatch it for him and give it to him.

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A nice little hatchery buck on the magical worm and the little creek rod.

After that, the run turned off. We decide at one more try in the top run before I actually had to head home. I decide to go up on the bridge and sight for Marc, so that he can get the perfect drift. The second cast on the right line, a nice buck drills his bead. His luck with the logs is much better than mine, and therefore his landing rate was as well. Marc’s buck was a great note to end the day on.

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Marc ends the day 1/1. He was definitely happy for the last minute phone call and the meat that we were able to harvest!

After Marc’s fish, I really had to get going, and I didn’t even have time anymore for my original plan! We called it a day, but I told him that I’d probably be up again by tomorrow evening. I knew after Kitty heard of my brief trip, and the success on it, that she would definitely want to arrange for this to be our weekend plan together. Hopefully this streak of luck could continue. I always hate telling Kitty of success, and then having the fish disappear on the days she can accompany me.

3 thoughts on “Catalogue and Conquer – Part IX – Road Trip

  1. Those are weird worm colors, white and clear with UV mixed in. Up on the Skeena, you can use any color you like as long as it’s pink (UV or non-UV) . . . with black getting the nod a couple times a year . . . and funny tail colors to mix. Worms don’t very often except in two tribs. From your lipped-hen, it looks like you’re using a factory barbless octopus. Who makes it? Finally, I see in last year’s vid that you have the Cabela’s “Billboard” Guidewear Gore-tex shell. I just started using mine mid-season last fall and liked it a lot. What’s your experience been?

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    1. Worms are very much so my go to on the island. I normally go with a bright pink, but as water gets low and clear, or fish get pressured, the lighter coloured ones or naturals seem to work well.

      The factory barbless is an owner no escape size 2. I’ve been using that Cabela’s jacket almost 3 years now – it’s been very good. I would buy another one.

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